Just by keeping up with Facebook and Flickr I get exposed to numerous photographs during the course of the day. An awful lot of these pictures do not fit the definition of being “good” in terms of composition, lighting, contrast, or any such attributes that are highly regarded by photographers. However, I have come to realize that a photograph does not have to meet these standards to be judged “good”.
A photograph can be considered good if it meets its intended purpose.
Broadly speaking, a vast majority of photographs are taken to memorialize a moment. These are pictures of people doing something, visiting somewhere, or just having a good time. The photographer is not paying much attention to anything except getting all the folks or place where the picture is being taken within the frame. As long as it meets some basic criteria — -one can see the face, and the head is not cut off — -it can be considered a good photograph, because it will serve as an aid to remember the moment, and what everyone looked like at that moment. It can be shared with others, or stored for future viewing.
Another major purpose one take a picture is to create, or at least attempt to create, a work of art. Photography is a relatively easy way to channel the need to exercise the creative right brain. As a work of art, a “good’ photograph has to appeal to the subconscious in some way. There are some guidelines that good photographers follow while taking a picture. These generally relate to composition, lighting, subject, use of space, contrasts, colors, and so on. However, some magic needs to happen to make it a really memorable photograph. I think the bar a photo has to clear in the second category to be called “good” is higher than that in the first.
There is also a third reason for taking pictures, and that is for photojournalism. These are the pictures taken by professionals that say a thousand words, and convey the meaning of an event, person or place in a powerful manner. However, most amateurs like us are not involved with this type of photography.
It is unfair to use the yardstick of one group of photograph while measuring the “goodness” of other type. Thus, an art photographer cannot call a snapshot “bad” because it does not meet the basic requirements of a work of art (composition, lighting, contrast, etc.). Likewise, a person used to taking snapshot should not judge an artistic photograph as useless because it just shows water, trees, and stones — -and has no person.
That having been said, I would not necessarily call the person who took a good photograph a good photographer. Pointing the camera in the right direction, putting it on automatic, and pressing the shutter does not require much skills. A good photographer can create really memorable pictures of a family get together in the first group, or a work of art from the most mundane subject in the second group.